At the time of year when every gardener in Canberra plants tomatoes, I was given a tray of many tomato seedlings. The generous seedling donor said that these plants were so prolific her garden was overrun with tomatoes every year. I took the seedlings home with high expectations.
In the backyard I made a new veggie patch, with compost and mulch and a posh wooden frame to go around it. I planted all but one seedling there and watered them and fussed over them. Within two weeks the whole lot got eaten, stalks and all, before they had a chance to grow. I never caught the culprits, but possums were my prime suspects.
One seedling went into a pot in the front courtyard, with some struggling basil for company. I watered it when I remembered. It looked sick and straggly for ages. There were no flowers, so of course there was no fruit. Everyone else who’d been given seedlings kept saying that they had so many tomatoes they didn’t know what to do with them. “Give them to tomato-less people like me,” I thought, grumpily.
Then suddenly, months after it should have started fruiting, the tomato plant began to grow. And grow. And grow. I was so encouraged that I started watering it more. A little yellow flower appeared. “It’s too late for tomatoes now,” said the know-it-all people who’d been dealing with a tomato glut for months. But still it kept growing. Another yellow flower appeared, and then another.
One day, a flower turned into a tiny green tomato. For a week or so it was the only fruit. Then two more tiny green tomatoes appeared. The weather was unseasonably hot and the sun shone fully on the flourishing tomato plant. “Can you believe how warm it is?” people said. At the time of year when we usually think about turning the heating on, the sun kept shining.
I looked at the weather forecast for the week ahead: a whole week of 29 degrees was predicted. Inside I danced a little jig at the unusual heatwave, the extra time for the tomatoes to ripen. “Those green tomatoes will never ripen at this time of year,” someone said. I kept watering and watching and hoping, but I decided I wouldn’t mind if they didn’t ripen. Either way, I was planning to eat them.
In an ideal world, the end of this story would be that those late tomatoes ripened and that, even though there were only a handful, they were perfect and sun-warmed and juicy. And I might have talked about quality over quantity and everything in its own time.
But what actually happened was that one tomato made it to an orange-ish stage and the other four stayed resolutely green. I left them on the plant a bit longer, in case a miraculous colour change took place just before the frost hit, but of course it didn’t.
So I picked them. The whole crop fitted into the palm of my hand and they would have been considered rejects by any vegetable-growing standard.
Still, those five little tomatoes made me happy. They grew! Against the odds! So I guess the lesson was: let go of your expectations, don’t compare yourself to other people, be happy with what you have…and roasted green tomatoes taste delicious.